I’ve been paddling Maine’s whitewater rivers and streams in the spring for almost 50 years. For me, the sport is a rite of spring. Over the years, I’ve managed to associate myself with many friends who have the same passion. Since the ’90s, I’ve done most of my whitewater boating with the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society, Maine’s premiere outdoor club.

During my half-century whitewater journey, I’ve experienced several transitions. Initially, my friends and I paddled long, awkward tandem canoes and wore inferior cold-water gear. Over time, most of us evolved into solo canoes and kayaks. We now wear dry suits, dry tops or wetsuits, and use state of the art whitewater equipment. For many years, our paddling skills reflected the improved quality of our outfitting. More recently, I’ve entered another stage in my paddling endeavors: old age. My skills have diminished, likewise my confidence. But I still love the sport.

Jake Boudreau kayaks the falls on the Sheepscot River in Whitefield. Ron Chase photos

Two of the most popular spring whitewater venues are the St. George and Sheepscot rivers. Although relatively easy Class II rivers, we found them challenging early on. The second time I paddled the St. George in Searsmont and Appleton, my paddling companion and I swam. During our first outing on the Sheepscot in Whitefield and Alna, my wife, Nancy, and I capsized. Subsequently, I’ve returned to both rivers perhaps 150 times and have always remained in my boat.

This year, Eggman DeCoster announced the first spring PPCS paddling trip on the Sheepscot River on a cold, gray, early-March day. My immediate elderly reaction was, “It’s too cold to paddle.” After giving the proposal additional thought and recalling the many outstanding spring trips in the past, I signed on.

When I arrived at the takeout next to a recently opened dam in Alna, there were only four of us. Since the air and water temperatures were in the 30s, we all wore dry suits. After leaving my vehicle for the return shuttle, we drove to the put-in at the site of an ancient washed-out dam about 5 miles north in Whitefield.

One Chowderhead decided to kayak the falls where the dam once was. In years past, that was a regular part of my routine. No more. I stood safely on the sidelines taking pictures. He navigated the tricky descent with precision.


I carried my kayak to the bottom of the falls where the rest of the group launched. The first required maneuver is a ferry across the lower end of the falls from river right to river left. Everyone flawlessly executed the procedure.

Ross Cameron ferries below the falls.  

We continued downriver though sporadic easy rapids. While the other paddlers seemed to be enjoying the day playing in the waves, I got cold and decided to move ahead to the warmth of my car. Paddling alone is a classic whitewater mistake. While attempting to surf a wave at the takeout, I flipped and missed three rolls. The result was my first swim on the Sheepscot in decades. It was a very cold, unpleasant experience. Old age is undefeated.

My lapse in judgement didn’t just cause me discomfort; it inconvenienced several very considerate people who helped me get out of the river and recover my kayak and paddle. Clearly, this episode requires introspection. I will not repeat my mistake.

A reliable kayak roll is an important element of whitewater paddling. In recent years, the quality of mine has declined. I can’t change what occurred, but I can improve my roll. In March, the PPCS and Skowhegan Outdoors sponsored several rolling sessions in a pool at the Alfond Community Center in Waterville. I used that opportunity for much-needed practice. About 50 successful rolls later, I think I’m ready. Of course, the ultimate question is can I execute when it really matters?

March was a stormy month. I canceled two scheduled whitewater trips due to cold, windy weather, including an annual St. George descent. A late month rainstorm coupled with snowmelt caused the rivers and streams to rise.

The St. George River is high, and I’ve rescheduled the trip. A quality weather forecast has been identified and a team of capable boaters will be joining me. I think I’m on my game.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates nine exciting whitewater excursions and six multiday river trips around the state.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals — New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

Eggman DeCoster successfully surfs at the Sheepscot takeout.

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